By Emily Groot
Radical ideas are often perceived as novel, but the beliefs underlying radical public health are not new. For example, in a report on the 1847 typhus outbreak of Upper Silesia, German pathologist Rudolf Virchow proposed reforms ranging from agricultural improvements to tax restructuring to avoid future outbreaks (Taylor and Rieger, 2008; Waitzkin, 2006). Virchow called diseases to which susceptibility was determined by socio-economic conditions, such as dysentery, measles, tuberculosis, and typhoid, “artificial diseases”. He recognized that although the etiology of these diseases was bacterial, the spread of the disease was determined by wider social circumstances (Taylor and Rieger, 2008).
Virchow was one of the key persons to popularize social medicine, the practice of preventing disease and promoting health by addressing systemic socioeconomic inequalities (Taylor and Rieger, 2008). Although social medicine shares many features with traditional public health, social medicine focuses on collective variables that have no individual measure (e.g., culture, class) while traditional public health often focuses on aggregate individual measures (e.g., cultural practices, income) (Waitzkin et al., 2001).
I consider the concept of social medicine to be a subset of the wider concept of radical public health. The Social Medicine blog will explore issues of relevance to social medicine and attempt to rediscover the historical roots of radical public health.